Pollis: Barry Bonds, race, and public perception

From SABR member Lewie Pollis at Baseball Prospectus on February 11, 2014:

Two things can be said about Barry Bonds’ place in baseball history: He was one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, and he may have been the single most controversial player of all time. He earned the former title largely by setting MLB records with 73 home runs in 2001 and 762 in his career (as well as 166.8 WARP), while the latter distinction can be traced to his having done all that under the cloud of allegations that he used some cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs.

But a close look at public opinion polling suggests another partial explanation for why opinions of Bonds are so strong and divided: race. Not only do divisions of opinions on Bonds exist along racial lines—they do so just as some political science literature would predict.

The question of how race has impacted popular perceptions of Bonds is not a new one. By 2006, as Bonds was closing in on Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, there was significant debate about whether Bonds’ generally negative public image stemmed from the color of his skin—as he claimed—and how much of it came from his PED use or treatment of the media. Even the guys at Fire Joe Morgan weighed in on the issue. Ken Tremendous claimed that Bonds “claimed racism everywhere he went for whatever reason if it suited his purposes,” while dak asked the provocative question: “Do you think he would have booed so vehemently if he had been white?”

Before we go further, allow me to say that discussions of race in academia are different than they are in the mainstream media or casual conversation. Political scientists in particular are very matter-of-fact about questions of race and the existence of racism. It is also worth emphasizing that the trends they describe for different demographics are generalizations and do not apply to every individual person within those groups.

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=22784

Originally published: February 11, 2014. Last Updated: February 11, 2014.